As a long-term admirer of Hurray For The Riff Raff, my thoughts on Life On Earth are a little conflicted. Objectively, it is a very good album. Alynda Segarra has already spent years demonstrating what a gifted songwriter and performer they are and there is no letup in those departments on this, their eighth full album. And in songs such as ‘Pierced Arrows’, ‘Rhododendron’, and ‘Saga’ they have also created their most chartable, accessible songs so far – not entirely losing their roots in country and punk, but striving for a more poppy sound at the same time. And in their subjects and messages, these songs are straight out of the Hurray For The Riff Raff playbook. With activism at their heart they address the immigrant experience, the state of the planet, the meaning of life, the everyday struggle to move forward. If you’ve been coming to Alynda and their band for the stories they tell and the fights they fight, then there is plenty in Life On Earth for you to love.
So why, then, am I conflicted? Well, while I don’t doubt the quality of these eleven new songs, I do feel they are missing some of the unique magic that makes me love Hurray For The Riff Raff. Songs like those I mentioned above (and the title song) are very good, but if it wasn’t for the very identifiable vocals there would be nothing that made me immediately know who was performing them. They could have been written by any decent, chart-bothering band. If we go back to 2017’s The Navigator, we experience one of those rare albums to which there are no easy comparisons. Mixing influences, Alynda created an enchanting, anthemic concept album that closes with ‘Pa’lante’ – one of the most captivating and original songs I remember hearing. The songs on Life On Earth never approach that level.
That isn’t to say there is nothing unique about any of them, though. I really haven’t heard a track like ‘Precious Cargo’ before. This is the album’s most typical Hurray For The Riff Raff song in terms of its subject, as Alynda puts themselves in the place of an immigrant crossing the border and being handcuffed at the border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The chorus of ‘I.C.E. your I.C.E. I hate your I.C.E.’ feels like it could have been borne in the protest movement that our artist is so indebted to, and this song is the moment when you really feel the emotion and power of them as a songwriter. But some of the things that make this song so unique are also the things that make this album less successful than its predecessors. It’s a little plodding, the oddness isn’t as interesting as it could be, and the messaging outweighs the music.
I don’t want to sound too harsh on this album, though. As I said at the start, this is an objectively good album and one that I think will definitely win over some new fans. ‘Rhododendron’, ‘Pierced Arrows’, ‘Saga’, and ‘Rosemary Tears’ are all really strong songs that show the creative spark is still very much alive. It’s just that, for me at least, Life On Earth falls far short of the two albums that came before it and, if I’m going to stick on Hurray For The Riff Raff in the future, I’ll reach for Small Town Heroes or The Navigator.
Words by Fran Slater